The EU chief suggested “selling cars” to China was “more important” to Germany than taking a “firm stance” on Beijing. Mr Verhofstadt warned the EU will “never” be able to put in a more “robust” policy against the Asian superpower.
He tweeted: “As long as selling cars to China is more important to Europe, especially to Germany than taking a firm stance on the Chinese crackdown on human rights in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjang, we will never be able to put in place a more robust EU-China policy.”
His remarks come as German Chancellor Angela Merkel comes under increasing amounts of pressure to do more to defend Hong Kong over China’s controversial new security law.
Norbert Röttgen, a leading figure in Mrs Merkel’s own party, the Christian Democratic Union, said Mrs Merkel’s response was too weak.
He said: “What the German Government said about Hong Kong was the absolute minimum, and it just wasn’t enough.”
Didi Tatlow, a senior fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) said people in Hong Kong have been left ”disappointed by the reaction in Germany.”
He told Die Welt: “It has been noted that Germany basically doesn’t say anything in public, and has a very a weak response to pressure from China.
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“She still sticks to this idea of convergence, that as we deepen our economic ties with China, it will become more liberal and western-oriented.
“But that’s just out of date.”
Mrs Merkel has been reluctant to criticise China behaviour in public in the past, and has so far refused to condemn the new national security law.
She has also refused to take a side in the battle between Beijing and Washington.
Mrs Merkel is said to have taken a light touch approach to China because of Germany’s huge trade reliance on the country.
China is Germany’s third-largest export market and is expected to overtaken the US as the world’s biggest buyer of German cars.
The criticism comes after it was believed Germany would take a hardline approach against China when it resumed the rotating presidency of the European Union.
Ms Merkel previously said of China: “We have a trade relationship, but we have different societal and political views, particularly when it comes to human rights and the rule of law.”